Infertility, over recent years, has emerged as one of the most common health issues that many young couples have been facing. Sedentary lifestyles with minimum physical activity, rising stress level and irregular sleep pattern are few of the reasons that, according to many clinicians and health experts, are causing infertility, thus forcing them to opt for artificial ways of conceiving. According to The Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction, infertility currently affects about 10 to 14 percent of the Indian population, with higher rates in urban areas where one out of six couples is impacted.
Nearly 27.5 million couples are known to actively trying to conceive suffer from infertility in the country. Infertility, once considered to be a personal and surreptitious topic, is no longer applicable. Today, people discuss the same due to their social and interpersonal ramifications. Childbearing is one of the major events in a couple’s life, infertility problems are now considered more seriously. This health condition is slowly detaching from the social stigma it had associated with for centuries. It is no more considered a health condition associated with only women. Infertility is not gender-specific.
A research study suggests that nearly 1.5% more men suffer from infertility than women. The sedentary lifestyle they follow and the addictions are the major culprits here. Other external factors such as pollution and stress also affect semen production and quality. Women with lifestyle issues like obesity and diabetes tend to increase the chances of infertility. Over 40% of women attending infertility clinics are found to be obese. Infections, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, and genital TB are other new areas of concern among women. Widespread use of emergency contraception and surgical abortions can trigger serious infections that may cause irreversible infertility.
Diabetes: Diabetes is one of the most common health conditions among youngsters today which increases the risk of infertility, erectile dysfunction and affecting sperm motility and count.
Smoking and alcohol: Smoking and alcohol are the root causes of many health problems including infertility. Smoking can affect the sperm quality in men and excessive alcohol consumption can lower fertility in most men.
Obesity: Lack of proper exercise and diet can result in obesity which is one of the reasons for infertility among men. Obesity can result in low sperm count, abnormal structure of sperms.
Stress and lack of sleep: Stress and improper sleep affect a man and can impede fertility. Stress is known to lead to reduced sexual activity.
Genetic Reasons: Some people have genetically low sperm count or lack of sperm resulting in infertility.
Infertility in Women
Age: The ability to conceive starts reducing around the age of 35 years as aneuploidy increases and oocyte quality decreases drastically after 35 years. Many couples plan pregnancy post 35 and this increases the chances of infertility.
Unhealthy eating habits: It leads to deranged metabolism (uncontrolled diabetes mellitus and deranged cholesterol levels) and altering ovarian mileu in PCOS population.
Diet: Lack of micro-nutrients like folic acid, iron, zinc, and vitamin B-12 may affect fertility. Women who are at risk, including those on a vegan diet, should ask the doctor about adding these supplements to their regular diet.
Infections: Chronic Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) may lead to tubal block causing infertility in these patients. Symptoms like foul-smelling vaginal discharge and painful intercourse should not be ignored, must be consulted with the doctor.
Tuberculosis: A common problem in India, the disease may cause tubal damage, affect endometrial lining and significantly destroy ovarian stroma. It can cause symptoms like decreased menstrual flow or lower abdominal pain.
Most of the diseases prevalent today can be prevented or controlled by bringing in a change in lifestyle and so can infertility amongst couples. Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. An annual check-up for couples will be helpful to diagnose and timely manage medical conditions, if any. The modern treatments with advanced technology are making fertility treatments available to
more people and the safety and success rates are also improving with time.
(The writer is a consultant at reproductive medicine; infertility specialist, BR Life SSNMC Hospital)